By Dan Baron
A proposed 12,000 square foot shipping and logistics facility in Bridgeport that the City’s Plan Commission likely will consider in the coming weeks has led to concerns among community groups that go well beyond how quickly workers can deliver packages to area customers.
Prologis, a real estate investment trust headquartered in San Francisco that invests in logistics facilities, hopes to build the facility between 2500 S. Corbett St. and 2420 S. Halsted St. Although other media reported the company plans to lease the property to Amazon, 11th Ward Alderman Patrick D. Thompson could not confirm that claim.
The new facility would replace the heliport that previously occupied the site. Thompson noted he expects the heliport will relocate on the South Side. His office hosted a virtual community meeting on the project in June.
Thompson hopes “the Plan Commission votes to approve” the Prologis project. “I would say a majority of the people I’ve talked to subsequent and prior to the community meeting about this support the project,” he said, though he acknowledged some community members have “concerns” about it.
Kate Lowe of the Bridgeport Alliance said the group will oppose rezoning the property. Its reasons suggest this story hits a nerve on many fronts that affect communities and developers. For one, this project follows “a model in which decisions are made but are shared so late with the public that it’s hard for communities to have a say in what happens,” Lowe said.
Debate about the facility is happening at a time of near-record unemployment, major challenges to the retail sector, and continued growth of e-commerce during a pandemic. While Thompson said the Prologis facility would create “150 permanent and 150 contract jobs”—a mix of permanent warehouse jobs and contract driver opportunities—neighborhood residents wonder about the real financial impact. “The benefits look like they will include a couple hundred minimum wage jobs, a slightly increased tax base, and the use of vacant land,” said Chris Kanich, a Bridgeport Alliance member.
Neighborhood residents also raised questions about the facility’s effect on traffic. Thompson countered residents may have “some misunderstanding about traffic and congestion. All commercial traffic will be directed to Halsted Street,” he said. “The smaller delivery vans will have ingress and egress via Corbett Street or Senour Avenue.”
Concerns about safety
For Lowe and other bike riders, the prospect of more commercial traffic on Halsted Street raises red flags about safety. “I’m a bike commuter,” she said, noting her job as an associate professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “There’s one main traffic lane and one bike lane on Halsted when I’m riding southbound. If freight vehicles turn right into this facility, that would be dangerous.”
Other prominent concerns include the facility’s environmental impact on Bridgeport and surrounding communities. Kent Truckor of the Southwest Environmental Alliance pointed to data demonstrating the disproportionate impact of exposure hazards on Southwest Side communities. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s map of Chicago shows a vast difference between environmental hazards on the Southwest Side compared to many other parts of the city. According to that map, communities with the highest “cumulative impact of environmental exposures and population vulnerability” are shaded in red. “It looks like there’s a giant red carpet on the Southwest Side of the city,” Truckor said.
“We’re not saying the City isn’t playing by the rules,” Truckor added. “But when so many companies move in, no one is looking at the cumulative burden. That needs to happen as we fill up the industrial corridor on the Southwest Side.” He recommended the City take a positive step by bringing back its Department of the Environment, which it shut down in 2011. Such a move would allow the department to develop a comprehensive development plan that is “mutually beneficial for communities and industry in the area.”
The broader issue, however, remains how and when developers, elected officials, and the City engage with communities most affected by development.
Prologis declined to comment for this story “due to client confidentiality,” according to an email sent by Lydia Chan, director of corporate communications for the company.
Kanich cited a big downside to these companies’ silence after they invest in properties and claim to protect their clients in this way. “People can cry client confidentiality all they want,” he said. “But that doesn’t build trust with the community.”
Neither does the fact that DLA Piper, a global law firm that represents Prologis, contributed $1,500 to “The Friends of Patrick Thompson for Alderman” in June 2018, Lowe said. “This is quite normal in Chicago, but I see it as a conflict of interest,” she added. Thompson formerly was a partner at the law firm.
Thompson emphasized that he and his office follow the law on donations. He also said that his office routinely seeks input from community members about key issues. “We notify the entire ward and treat everyone fair and equal,” he said. “We also hold meetings for every zoning request.”
Lowe also pointed to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s order to curb “aldermanic privilege” in the city as a positive step, if the promise of that order works in practice.
For activists, the underlying issue remains not just the fate of this one facility, but the voice of the community.
“We want this to be a bigger conversation about health, environmental justice, and economic impact,” said Lowe. “What has happened here is nothing new, but the process does need to change. We need to transform how this works so communities can have a meaningful dialogue on projects before they are a done deal.”
For Bridgeport Alliance, log on to https://www.facebook.com/bridgeportalliance. For more on Prologis, go to www.prologis.com. For the Southwest Environmental Alliance, log on to https://www.facebook.com/ SouthwestEnvironmentalAlliance/. For Thompson’s office, log on to www.ward11.org.